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Taberna do Mercado in London

Rating: 89.
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Ever since arriving on the London dining scene in 2006, when he opened gastropub Bacchus (now closed), Nuno Mendes (b.1973) has been one of the most talked about chefs in the British capital, with Chiltern Firehouse certainly creating über-buzz in the last 18 months. In 2010, two yearsafter Bacchus closed, Mendes opened Viajante in London's Bethnal Green (1 Michelin star, now closed), followed the next year by The Corner Room, and during 2011 and 2012 there was The Loft Project, a supperclub which presented a number of young and talented chefs, such as Isaac McHale (now head chef at Michelin starred The Clove Club in London), James Lowe (now head chef at Michelin starred Lyle's in London), Junya Yamasaki (head chef at Koya in London) and Mark Poynton (head chef at Michelin starred Alimentum in Cambridge), to name but a few. 

Nuno Mendes's latest project is Portuguese restaurant Taberna do Mercado in London's Old Spitalfields Market. It opened in May 2015 with chef Antonio Galapito running the kitchen. Taberna do Mercado is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the menu covers a broad selection of petiscos (Portuguese tapas), small plates (vegetarian, fish and meat), pregos (Portuguese sandwiches), Portuguese cheeses and cured meats, house-tinned fish, and desserts. 

So, here goes.

To start we ordered some Paleta Proco Preto ham, a cured DOP protected Iberico ham from the Alentejo region in Portugal. Wonderfully glistening ham, with a perfect meat-fat ratio. This was followed by prawn rissóis, which were well-made and had a lovely creamy and mildly spicy prawn filling. Equally lovely were the runner bean and shallot fritters, served with some Bulhão Pato clam juice and garnished with coriander cress.


Two tinned fish dishes followed. Deliciously tender fillets of mackerel (at room temperature) came with soft tomatoes and olive oil and even better were the queenie scallops, served with warm browned butter, and garnished with grated walnuts and fresh chervil.

We continued with two dishes from the small plates' section on the menu. First up was a happy marriage of meltingly tender cuttlefish served with a terrific, rich pig trotter's "Coentrada" (a traditional Portuguese pig's trotters dish), and garnished with some some deep-fried sliced garlic for extra texture and flavour. The kind of dish where you regret that you agreed to sharing. Shortly after, the next dish arrived, flash-grilled cubes of succulent Portuguese Bísaro pork, which was very tasty, with lovely grilling flavours and some of the pork cubes had a thin layer of delicious fat. The pork was served with grilled cabbage leaves, and a Cozido (a meat stew) which had a nice touch of spiciness.


Next we shared some Terrincho cheese, a Portuguese DOP sheep's milk cheese rubbed with spicy paprika and olive oil, followed by a most pleasing "Abade de Priscos", a shiny and well-set pudding made with egg yolks, orange zest and pork fat, sprinkled with some sea salt, and served in a pool of sticky port caramel.


If you are going to open a restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese food, or "offering a day in the life of a typical Portuguese 'Lisboeta', as Taberna do Mercado nicely put it themselves, I guess Old Spitalfields Market is as close as you can get to a Portuguese Mercado in London. On the day I had lunch there, we sat out on the terrace, doing some people watching while enjoying some wonderful food and wine. I'm not hugely familiar with Portuguese food, but this meal has pleasantly broadened my knowledge of this cuisine. All dishes were well-constructed, with traditional ingredients/techniques inventively incorporated, and the flavours were pretty spot-on. 


Posted 07-10-2015


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